What the Pandemic Teaches us About the Need for Publicly-Owned Electricity

April 21, 2020

Ron Unger, Veterans for Peace North Texas

One central theme we see in every time of crisis is that people come together to ensure that everyone has access to basic necessities like electricity, water, and other essential supplies. 

This is a natural human response to disaster. This response is not partisan. It is common across political, economic, ideological and ethnic groups. It is a response that nearly everyone understands and supports innately.

This COVID-19 pandemic offers us the opportunity to examine the collective actions we are taking to help each other during this crisis and reflect on how we act during “normal” times. What is different about a person who cannot afford an electric bill during a global crisis than a person that cannot afford an electric bill during “normal” times?

The short answer is the lack of a sense of community. During a widely felt crisis, we are all thrust into the same community of the vulnerable and we act accordingly. Outside of these extraordinary times, we stratify into separate communities and, again, act accordingly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to realize that electricity is one of the basic necessities of life in modern society. Electricity is so central to our daily lives and livelihoods that the government is willing to step in during a disaster to ensure the lights stay on in your home.

But after this pandemic is over there will still be thousands of people who remain in crisis. In order to be in a position to serve the needs of everyone in our community, the City of Dallas should consider creating a publicly-owned utility in order to deliver reliable and clean electricity to all.

The function of a publicly-owned utility is to provide essential services with the sole mission to serve people and community without the additional goal of generating profit for investors. The decisions made by a publicly-owned utility are focused on meeting the needs and interests of the served community.

The record is positive for publicly-owned power utilities. They generally have lower rates than their for-profit counterparts and provide higher service reliability. In addition, they feed revenue into the public coffers for use for other public projects and services. Just as we see in public water, sewer, and sanitation services, a publicly-owned electric utility provides greater transparency and accountability to ensure that the objective of serving the public good is met.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also instructive for us in dealing with another crisis that we are in the midst of, namely the climate crisis. As we know, the main driver of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels. Publicly-owned electric utilities across the country and globe are serving the interests of their only shareholders, the people, by recognizing the need to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in power generation as a necessary component in addressing the urgent crisis of global warming.

Public utilities in Texas are without a doubt the biggest investors in clean energy in the state. They are willing to make the necessary longer term investments that serve both the immediate and long term public good without being distracted by objections to the loss of short term profits for a select few.

The creation of a public power utility by the City of Dallas would be a step in improving its municipal function of serving the common good. The benefits are being seen all over the country as municipalities are creating public power utilities that allow them to provide reliable electric service to their local communities while also addressing the larger and more urgent need to transition away from using fossil fuels.

The time to act is now. The urgency and utility are evident. Why wait?

References

https://www.publicpower.org/public-power/stats-and-facts

https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/business/energy-environment/cities-weigh-taking-electricity-business-from-private-utilities.html

Reddy Kilowatt, the mascot of Dallas Power and Light Company, represented the former public utility company.

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